Fertilizers, Food Production and Poverty Eradication in Africa

20/10/2010
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The Chief Executive Officer of the Alabama-based International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC), Amit Roy, has said that fertilizers are strong factors in efforts at increasing food production and attaining food security.

“We see fertilizer not only as an important ingredient in the global response to increasing food prices, but also, as a factor for an enhanced turn-around in food production and food security, as well as poverty reduction in general in Africa,”  he said, adding that “The next generation of fertilizer issues is, therefore, more relevant to Africa than anywhere else, involving a combination of research networks, structured production, market delivery and preservation mechanisms.”

Mr. Roy made the statement while responding to questions from African Development Bank (AfDB) staff after a presentation on October 19, 2010 in Tunis.

The presentation, titled “Research on the Next Generation of Fertilizers” triggered strong questions from staff of the Bank’s operations complex, on global efforts at food production, marketing and fertilizer use.

Mr. Roy, who visited the Bank at the invitation of the Bank’s Agriculture and Agro-industry Department (OSAN), responded to questions on whether fertilizers (organic as against chemical) were actually suitable for Africa, environmental issues on fertilizer use in Africa,  and the  implications of new generation fertilizers for the African Fertilizer Mechanism, among others.

Drawing from his global experience, he explained that fertilizer problems, which were more prevalent in Africa, had been exasperated by persistent food crises and environmental degradation.

He revealed that fertilizer use in Bangladesh far outstripped that of the entire African continent and that over 15 African delegations, including more recently Kenya, had visited Bangladesh to study that country’s fertilizer programmes.

On whether Africa has the capacity to meet fertilizer needs with due regard to current concerns about climate change, Mr. Roy highlighted ongoing research on the next generation of fertilizers which, he noted, would make efficient use of nitrogen and phosphate in processes that would not concurrently produce carbon dioxide.

He explained that clean energy and green production had become priority consideration in fertilizer production investment programmes. “The key issue today is how countries and development agencies could improve the overall efficiency and use of available natural resources, including water, and, of course, phosphate and nitrogen in the case of fertilizers,” he said.

He emphasized the role of IFDC’s partnership with the Bank, particularly through the Africa Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM), and the need to stimulate private sector participation in the AFFM because fertilizer investments were generally expensive. “Africa, which has the lion’s share of the world’s phosphate reserves, should endeavor to increase its fertilizer use from the current average of 10 kg per hectare to 50 kg per hectare, if it is to substantially boost its agricultural productivity by the 2015 time horizon.”  

On whether the Bank, in addressing problems of fertilizer availability and price volatility in  Africa, should assist its regional member countries to establish regional fertilizer manufacturing plants, Mr. Roy said the best possible way was for countries to collaborate to ensure complementarity and not compete against each other, even through trade.

He noted that while global prices were presumably determined by the law of supply and demand, in Africa, a major fertilizer price determinant was transportation costs. Increase in food costs make farmers see the usefulness of using fertilizers and its overall supply and demand will then depend on the market’s openness to ensure cross border distribution and competiveness of production. He said that the East African Community was moving in the right direction in this regard, as there was free movement of goods and services between countries such as Rwanda and Sudan.

Mr. Roy outlined some of the ways in which the IFDC and AFFM could enhance collaboration to ensure increased fertilizer accessibility, affordability and profitability in Africa.

IFDC is an international organization addressing critical issues such as international food security, alleviation of global hunger and poverty, environmental protection and the promotion of economic development and self-sufficiency. It focuses on increasing productivity across the agricultural value chain in developing countries through the creation and transfer of effective and environmentally-sound crop nutrient technology and agribusiness expertise.

AFFM is a joint initiative of the Bank, the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), established by declaration of the African Union (AU) heads of state fertilizer summit held in June 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria.  With the support of UNECA and AU Commission, the AFFM was established in March 2007. Its secretariat is hosted by the Bank in Tunis. The objective of the AFFM is to increase fertilizer use in Africa from the current 10 kg per hectare average to 50 kg per hectare by 2015, to boost agricultural productivity.